Faction! This lesson is taken directly from our BSP NOVA coaching manual and is the result of work we did as a staff during the fall of 2018.
Making an Exercise Change
There are going to be times when you notice that an exercise just isn’t right for someone. Maybe it will be an exercise that was actually programmed for them, it might be one that they’re doing as part of a group class—strength or metabolic. No matter the circumstance, if an exercise is putting a client in, or moving them through, a bad position for their body it has to be changed. Let’s have a walk through some strategies on doing that.
First, a Few Things to Keep In Mind…
Our first job as coaches is to keep people safe—that’s always the number one priority. That means despite the fact that we want to foster client autonomy, we have the ultimate say in exercise selection. If something isn’t working well, is unsafe, or just generally appears to be the wrong exercise for that person at that time, we have to make a change. It’s literally our duty.
One more thing to keep in mind—that the longer we wait to make a change, the harder making the change will be. The client will likely be frustrated that either the change wasn’t made sooner or they’ll feel like they are being demoted/having something taken away from them. That’s not good, and it will likely raise more objections. It also makes things harder on your teammates if you wait to correct something that should be corrected and one of your teammates is the unfortunate soul that is the one to fix something that you let slide. That ain’t cool, dog.
So, as we continue this discussion, remember your first priority is keeping clients safe and that delaying a necessary exercise change is not the right thing to do. There are, of course, likely exceptions. But they’re rare.
Lead with Questions
Like mentioned above, making an exercise change can be tough because clients can have an emotional reaction. Those emotional reactions can be made worse if they feel like they are being told what to do or directed rather than talked to about their best interest and well-being. Leading with questions involves the client in the process and often defuses the tension of the situation before any tension can build. Questions say, “You’re involved in this process and I value your opinion and intelligence.” Blatant directions just say I’m the boss. There’s a time to put on the boss pants, but it’s rare and we’ll talk about it later.
We always want to do our best to support a client’s feelings of autonomy, and asking questions does that—especially when we are asking them to make a change. Before we go any further, I’ll preface the rest of this discussion by saying it’s usually not a big deal to make a change and you’re not likely going to get that much push back. That being said, using a few simple strategies will make it easier on you and the client. And there will inevitably be instances where push back comes at ya hot and heavy.
Ok, moving on.
We’re snapped back in. Something was up with an exercise and you want to change it. There’s a good chance that something felt a little off to the client as well, unless their totally new and they have no context. Either way, asking:
“How did that last rep/set feel?”
Is a great lead in question.
If they say that something felt off, that will make our job easier. Then you can respond with something like, “Yeah, something looked a little off to me. Can I tell/show you what I saw?”
At this point you give them a demonstration of what they were doing followed by a demonstration of what the exercise needs to look like. Then, if it’s safe and appropriate, if they want to take another crack at it, let them. If there’s no chance of them performing it successfully, recommend an exercise change that fits in line with the purpose of the exercise your changing—whether it’s a lateralization, regression, or exercise that would meet the same end but isn’t in the same line of exercise progression.
Recommend it by saying something like, “I have another idea for an exercise that might fit you a little better right now, want to try it?” They’ll likely comply, if they don’t immediately, that’s ok. We’ll talk about what to do with that objection in just a little bit.
If they respond to your question about how the last rep/set felt by saying that nothing felt off, still follow up with a question asking them if you can tell them what you saw. And, again, give them the contrasting demonstrations.
Then, without being a fear monger, give them some info on what can happen if they continue to move in the way that they were moving. An example would be talking about the cumulative stress of moving in a poor way and how it can lead to injury.
Follow up with a solution. We can’t give all of this information without having another option for the person to try. If you’re running a strength class, the next option is easy—it would be the easier movement listed on the blackboard. If you’re working in semi-private, use a lateralization or regression of the movement that fits their goals and the person.
Once you have the option, say, “Let’s give this movement a try, and if it doesn’t work out, we’ll find something else that fits better.” A statement like that tells people that you’re working to put them in the best position possible, but also not just taking away something from them and painting them into a corner with no choice. They’ll most likely be good with it, but stating it in this way keeps the resistance at bay because you’re continuing to give options and not just being declarative.
This process should handle a high percentage of the issues when making changes to exercises on the floor. But, let’s talk about handling situations when objections get a wee bit stronger.
Handling Stauncher Objections
Sometimes folks are going to give you more guff when you’re trying to put them in an exercise that better fits them. Who knows why. People are weird and sometimes they just want to push back. That’s ok.
The first step in handling these situations is approaching them with calm confidence. And, of course, that’s easier said than done. Let’s examine what promotes that double whammy of C words.
It starts with putting the relationship first. We can’t put a price on getting to know a person and their personality because it’s truly invaluable to what we do. Taking the time to build the relationship, understand the person, and understand how they like to communicate will, first and foremost, build their trust in you. It will also give you confidence in knowing how to approach the person so they are receptive to you.
The second aspect of remaining calm and confident is knowing where you want to go next—meaning the exercise you want to use to replace the one that isn’t working out and why you want to use it as the replacement. Knowing what and why dampens your insecurities in the moment because you’re not just pulling something out of your hat. Know the person and how they move. Know the progressions and regressions for each given exercise. When you limit the unknowns you can act calmly and confidently.
Third in the calm and confident world is understanding that folks don’t want you to change their exercises for simple, emotional reasons. Often times it’s because they feel as though they are having something they like taken away from them or that they are being treated as a “lesser” and given something easier because they aren’t capable of handling what they were doing. People want to feel strong and capable, not as if the world is being made smaller for them or that they are having something that seems like a privilege taken away.
The second step in handling push back is realizing that everyone becomes a Why person when they have to do something that they don’t necessarily like or want to do. And we know what Why people want—sound reasoning.
It’s not just sound reasoning that sounds intellectually pretty, they want sound reasoning that relates to their goals and what they’re trying to accomplish. Here’s a hypothetical to illustrate.
Let’s say you’re changing a movement and a client pushes back. You know their goals, and how the movements that they are doing relates to those goals, so you ask them, “What’s your big goal that your training here is working to accomplish right now?” If they don’t state it, or they can’t think of it, direct them to the top of their program. Once you settle on the objective that you’re trying to reach as a team you relate everything that you’re doing to that.
Statements like, “If this is the ultimate goal, we don’t have to do X exercise to achieve it. There are a lot of ways to get this done, and the exercise that we gave you was our best guess, and we were wrong. So, let’s put you into one that fits your body better so you can achieve your goal.”
Relating to them in the context of what they are trying to accomplish, and that they movements that they are doing are just tools used to accomplish that end, keeps people from feeling like something is being taken away and that they’re actually being put in a better position to move forward.
Now, what if performing on that exercise is their absolute goal? That’s a tricky one isn’t it? Well, the same process applies. We just have to have them relate to the idea that in the context of reaching that goal, they might have to do something else for a bit to prepare them to ultimately perform the way that they want to. It’s helping them to see the long-term rather than getting caught up on the short-term.
What if None of That Works?
There’s a chance that even though you’ve been an interpersonal rockstar and practiced every careful, conversational coaching skill that you possibly could and you still get resistance on making the exercise change. What then?
We revert back to the conversation from the beginning of this treatise on handling objections—we draw on the commitment we’ve made to keep people safe and put them in the best positions to be successful.
You can start by taking the blame, something alluded to earlier in this document. Remind them that it’s our fault that they are doing an exercise that doesn’t best fit them in the first place, so we have to make a change that puts them in a better position.
Following that up with a statement about being their coach and your ultimate job being keeping them safe. And since that’s you’re ultimate job you have to put them into a better movement. Hell, you can put the blame on us (Chris and Todd) and say that we’d be all over you if you didn’t make a change. But reiterate that it’s ultimately what you have to do and that they won’t be doing that exercise right now, but it doesn’t mean that they’ll never be able to do it again.
Making Changes and Handling Objections Conclusion
Our ultimate job is to keep our clients safe while exercising. To do that, we need to put people in positions that their body can handle if they are currently in one that they can’t. Make those changes by leading with questions, keeping the relationship at the forefront of everything, and making the person part of the process rather than just dictating. In most instances if you follow that and fill in the blanks with the instructions from above, you’ll nail it.